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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

The Humans, or: Family Togetherness

Somehow it’s March, and if that fills you with existential dread, you’ll certainly enjoy(?) this week’s film. Or at least connect to it on a spiritual and emotional level? It’s another free for all/blog free month on the Collab, and it wouldn’t be us without familial dysfunction and a healthy dose of despair.

The Film:

The Humans

Director:

Stephen Karam

The Premise:

Gathering for a Thanksgiving celebration in the youngest daughter’s new apartment, the cracks begin to show in both the building and the family members.

The Ramble:

As the Blake family gathers for the annual Thanksgiving feast, they anticipate a rather minimalist celebration. Youngest daughter Brigid is hosting despite having moved recently to a new apartment in Manhattan with serious boyfriend Richard–so recently that the majority of their furniture and belongings have yet to arrive.

A family group of four people standing and a woman sitting in a wheelchair congregate in a sparsely decorated apartment.

Though the new place is in Manhattan, don’t be fooled: this isn’t exactly the Upper West Side with scenic views of Central Park. Rather, Brigid and Richard have found a place with an “interior courtyard” view, major structural cracks, and water stains that seem to be actively growing.

In the midst of this decay are the family members themselves: parents Erik and Deirdre, hardworking “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” types who are struggling nevertheless. They bring along Erik’s mother, a woman with both physical and mental ailments that have progressed as she’s aged. Brigid’s sister Aimee joins the family as well, though she suffers from ulcerative colitis that has recently taken a turn, seeming to cost her job and relationship with long-term girlfriend Carol.

Two men stand in a dirty, aged kitchen, having a conversation.

Both sisters have moved away from Scranton to the big city (Aimee to Philadelphia), which causes their parents some consternation as they fret over the rejection of their values and the unsafe streets of the city. It doesn’t help that Erik and Aimee were actually in Manhattan on September 11, with Aimee interviewing for a law job in the World Trade Center.

A man stands talking on the phone in a hallway with elaborately carved but aging tiles.

As the cracks in familial bonds are revealed, the lights begin to fail, and with no replacement bulbs, the apartment slowly descends into darkness. Dreams and memories seem to be the only things keeping the family together, though these don’t provide a particularly firm foundation. Can the Blakes survive the evening, admittedly in more of an existential sense?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t 100% know what to make of this one. Both compelling and frustrating, it seems to simultaneously draw in the viewer and push us away. There have been some descriptions of this film as horror or even comedy(!?!), but it’s very much an old-fashioned family drama in the spirit of Long Day’s Journey into Night. Fraught family relationships, the impossibility of connection, and an inevitable, slow decline create the film’s bleak tone.

The darkness is in the mundane, the day-to-day lives and relationships of our characters struggling to understand each other and manage their personal grief. There are physical and mental illnesses to navigate, much as Erik and other members of the family believe they are genetically immune to depression. Dread of illness, death, and decay inhabits the apartment, and the slowly encroaching darkness reflects this onscreen. The characters have the impulse to share vulnerable moments and be honest, but secrecy and isolation are the result of many of their choices.

Our film is all about atmosphere, the camera angles from afar distancing the viewer from the family as well as reflecting their own disconnectedness. The slow creep of cracks & water stains are the symbolic decay of the family, the sudden disgust of cockroaches and bodily functions a stand-in for their feelings towards themselves and each other.

There are admittedly times things get a bit heavy-handed & full of hipster nonsense, but the film is extremely effective in evoking an oppressive tone. I find the nuances of the familial relationships and the realistic dialogue well done too. Truly unsettling.

Would my blog wife fix this one up with a bit of joint compound or condemn this property immediately? Read her review to find out!

1 thought on “The Humans, or: Family Togetherness”

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